Hattiesburg's 114th Returns From Kuwait

The general in charge of the 114th Area Support Group while it was in Kuwait said the south Mississippi soldiers did a magnificent job. He called them a blessing, because of how well they worked to complete America's mission.

Monday's homecoming celebration in Hattiesburg was a different sort of blessing, because all 120 soldiers returned to their families safe and sound.

An excited parent was on the cell phone, talking to her daughter, as the 114th Area Support Group buses rolled toward Hattiesburg.

"Oh they're on Hardy Street," she screamed.

Across the parking lot, another parent seemed anxious.

"Come on, speed it up people," she said to the police escort vehicles.

At 11:15, three buses pulled into the Temple Baptist Church parking lot. In a scene reminiscent of the Beatles arriving, families swarmed around the buses, making it somewhat difficult for the 120 soldiers to step back onto Mississippi soil.

One soldier spotted his family and let out a sigh of relief.

"I'm glad to be home Chucky," he said to his grandson.

Others got pats on the back and "welcome home" wishes from the crowd.

William Speed was impressed.

"I just really can't put in words seeing all the family and friends, everyone in Hattiesburg coming to greet us," the soldier said. "It's just awesome."

Janet Hilbun's second tour with the 114th ended just the way she hoped it would, with her children surrounding her.

"It's good to be back home with my family," the Lucedale soldier said.

Her Hattiesburg based unit spent its tour of duty in Kuwait, coordinating how America got military personnel and equipment into Iraq.

Steven Farragut is with the 114th. He's from Gulfport. Farragut said the last 10 months were "very hot, very challenging work. Very rewarding work."

Back in December, this unit gathered at the Hattiesburg church, and said goodbye to its families. Ten months later, the same soldiers marched into the same church. Underneath their camouflage uniforms were fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who were about to return to their civilian lives. One of the fathers was Scott Berry.

"It's been very different," he admitted. "It's been a big strain to be away from the family. But on the same token, we had a mission. And it's been real proud that we were able to fulfill what we set out to do."

Right after the first family hugs, the 114th marched into the church. That's where the National Guard hosted a formal welcome home ceremony. Governor Barbour thanked troops for their efforts. A general said the 114th was one of the best units he ever met.

At that point, the entire church sang God Bless America. And then the 120 members of the 114th heard the two words that meant the most to them. "Group dismissed," an officer barked. Hundreds of prayers had been answered.